There are hordes of people in this city, and many more faces. Formal stitched-up faces; faces worn in safe rooms, where they drop and fall into their natural folds; faces worn for too long, until they wear like old suitcases; smooth faces always quickly exchanged — even these I’m learning to respect.
I became a face collector out of boredom, almost out of malice. Most days I felt as if I’d been locked in a bare room. I slept badly.
All faces were masks to me then. I started with masks of authority: they were easy because they were blank or hard surfaces. With experience I made them crack and collected the tired or angry faces that emerged. At my worst I started in on the faces of my friends and family, pinpointing what I told myself were lines of weakness, amassing expressions like an anthropologist gathering totems from primitive tribes. Soon I’d assembled a mental gallery of frozen faces — nervous, prim, laughing, buffoonish — which I flicked through when I couldn’t sleep.
I stopped after I first had the dream. There were so many of them: they sat on a long bench in a park strewn with detritus. In the distance small stick-like figures were picking at the objects with long forks to no apparent purpose. I walked along the bench trying to find a way around it. They had all fallen forward into their hands. The ones I came close to sat up. I looked at the receding wave of cupped hands in horror, making a shuddering effort to stay with them, because I sensed the flayed heads that were waiting for me if I raised my gaze. I walked through the rubbish as quickly as I could, but the bench only stretched farther.